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With 'Unlimited Love,' the Red Hot Chili Peppers continue evolving

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Anthony Kiedis and Flea have known each other since they were in high school.

(SOUNDBITE OF RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS SONG, "SUCK MY KISS")

SHAPIRO: Today, they're both in their late 50s. In the decades that they've been friends, they've won six Grammy Awards, been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. And they just got a star on Hollywood Boulevard as lead singer and bassist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

ANTHONY KIEDIS: In 1990, when we were rehearsing at the Alleyway Rehearsal Studios (ph) in North Hollywood next to a grimy, greasy hamburger stand. And these young, shirtless boys were so raw and powerful on this little tweaker (ph) stage in the Valley.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUCK MY KISS")

KIEDIS: (Singing) Shoulda been, coulda been, woulda been dead if I didn't get the message goin' to my head.

FLEA: I was driving down Sunset Boulevard. I started thinking about my life energy, you know, the core of the thing that we have that keeps us going, the vitality. What is it? What is that thing? And then when I started thinking about it, I started going (vocalizing). And that happened in my head.

SHAPIRO: The same lineup that made "Suck My Kiss" over 30 years ago, among many other hits, has reunited for a new Red Hot Chili Peppers album. It's called "Unlimited Love," and it's out today.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "POSTER CHILD")

RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS: (Singing) Melle Mell and Richard Hell were dancing at the Taco Bell when someone heard a rebel yell. I think it was an infidel. Adam Ant and Robert Plant, the banter of a sycophant. Enlisted by Ulysses Grant to record at the record plant.

SHAPIRO: My first question for Anthony Kiedis and Flea was, whose idea was it to make another record? Kiedis answered First.

KIEDIS: I mean, we don't really have to be told to make a record. That's just what we do. And the energy of the world and the return of John Frusciante - it all kind of indicated that it was time to make a record.

FLEA: This is our life's mission. You speak about Anthony and I being friends for so long and us getting a star on Hollywood Boulevard and stuff. Like, you know, we've been running around on that street since we were kids. You know, like, when I was a little kid, I used to sit on Hollywood Boulevard with a kazoo and another friend on trash can lid and put out a hat, get money.

SHAPIRO: Really?

FLEA: Yeah, man - day in, day out. And it's, you know, a real honor to be a part of something that we grew up on.

KIEDIS: You know, like Flea said, this is what we love to do. And I will say to Flea, you brought the funk, holmes. You brought it every day.

(LAUGHTER)

FLEA: Thanks.

SHAPIRO: Well, let's talk about some of the tracks on this album, because, you know, in the press materials, you call it the sum of our lives, which encompasses a lot. You have had very eventful lives. So point us to a song on this record where we hear the threads of your lives.

FLEA: For me, this was Anthony's best work. But when Anthony sings, you know, we have a song called "Aquatic Mouth Dance."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AQUATIC MOUTH DANCE")

RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS: (Singing) Looking back at the years gone by, when the message changed my life, heavy metal, the nest was dead, well, and the rappers gave delight. But I don't know who was looking out for anyone like me and you. Maybe here...

FLEA: It kind of goes through us growing up in Hollywood and stuff and all these sort of wild, you know, the colors of the words together, forming this narrative that brings back, for me, like, you're talking about going to the Star Awards and seeing X, like, you know, a LA band that we really loved a lot. And I feel a real thread of our lives through that. What do you think about that, Anthony?

KIEDIS: Yeah, there is some narratives going on. There's another song called "Here Ever After," which is very much the landscape of Hollywood growing up.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HERE EVER AFTER")

RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS: (Singing) And I don't know, but it's finally just one more mile. Peaches are sold and all giving up on that Humpty style. At the Caldwell...

KIEDIS: And interestingly enough, I didn't get a lot of feedback from my brethren, lyrically speaking, until one day John was doing some guitar overdubs, and he's like, wow, I just - I finally read the lyrics to "Here Ever After" as I was going through the overdubs. And he's like, it is an exact portrait of my life growing up in Hollywood. So John, who's a few years younger than us, moved to Hollywood from the deep San Fernando Valley. And he kind of, you know, moved into, like, the back of a Chevron station. He had no money. He had no means until we kind of gathered our resources and made our way.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HERE EVER AFTER")

KIEDIS: (Singing) Smoke and tears, now take my photo. She's the kind of girl that make you want to go faster. Now, she's the kind of girl...

SHAPIRO: When I listen to this track, I feel like I could be putting a CD into my CD player in high school in the bedroom where I grew up. Like, how do you think about being true to the sound that Red Hot Chili Peppers is known for intentioned (ph) with the evolution that happens in any artist's life?

KIEDIS: Yeah. To meet those ideas, they're not really in conflict. It's like you're loyal to the spirit that drives you. And you're loyal to, you know, showing up on time to work it out with the boys. And you're loyal to paying attention to everything around you. And part of being in the Red Hot Chili Peppers has always been we're open to anything.

FLEA: Everything we've ever done, every lesson we've ever learned, musical and otherwise, is part of who we are. Every progression that we've had as artists is always because we're just trying to get better.

(SOUNDBITE OF RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS SONG, "IT'S ONLY NATURAL")

SHAPIRO: Flea, you released a memoir a few years ago called "Acid For The Children." And in a conversation you had on this program with Audie Cornish, you talked about the relationship that the two of you have. You called Anthony a chosen brother. And you went into a little more detail. Let's listen to this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST")

FLEA: We push each other's buttons in ways that are almost like, you know, when you have a troubled relationship with parents, even as adults. And...

AUDIE CORNISH, BYLINE: Yeah.

FLEA: ...You know, you get together for Thanksgiving and they say one thing that might seem innocuous to someone who's not, you know, familiar with the relationship, but to you, it crushes your heart and sends you into a raw, vulnerable frenzy. We have that kind of relationship.

SHAPIRO: So how's that going these days?

(LAUGHTER)

KIEDIS: He's not wrong. I mean, he's not wrong when he says that. But it's - I think, you know, the difference is the chosen part. Like, when you're with a family who's pushing your buttons, it's like you feel a little bit trapped. But we elected to have our buttons pushed, and sometimes it's unpleasant in the moment, but it's also this person in my life who really knows how to get under my skin, so maybe I should look a little closer at that. It's also very productive. It's like, you know, it's a healthy - in a competitive sense, you know? And I see that in many creative ensembles where, you know, one person is able to bring something and the other person's like, that's pretty amazing. I better try to also bring something amazing. And at the end of the day, I think it is all love and it just has many different faces.

FLEA: All love and ever-evolving.

KIEDIS: Flea's evolving. I stopped, like, 20 years ago, but...

FLEA: (Laughter) You got to know, Ari, like, in about an hour, we're going to be at rehearsal and staring each other down (laughter).

SHAPIRO: Anthony Kiedis and Flea, thank you so much for joining us today, and good luck with the tour.

KIEDIS: Thank you.

FLEA: Thank you for having us, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACK SUMMER")

RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS: (Singing) A lazy rain am I. The skies refuse to cry. Cremation takes its piece of your supply. The night is dressed like noon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Miguel Macias
Miguel Macias is a Senior Producer at All Things Considered, where he is proud to work with a top-notch team to shape the content of the daily show.
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